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The Dropsie College Isaac Leeser Collection spans the years 1822 through 1868, with the bulk of the collection concentrated between the years 1848 and 1867. Categories of documents to be found include correspondence, literary productions, financial records--largely relating to The Occident, and legal and printed materials.
Notable among the literary productions are: the complete manuscript of Leeser's translation from the original German into English of Moses Mendelssohn's famous work Jerusalem; a nearly complete manuscript translation of J. Johlson's Instruction in the Mosaic Religion, drafts of various published and unpublished discourses and sermons by Leeser, an incomplete manuscript of Leeser's Jews and the Mosaic Law; Leeser's school notebooks from his youth in Germany--the oldest materials in the collection--dated 1822. Among the fragmentary writings is a report, apparently translated into English, from the "Committee central for the building houses [sic] for the poor and the pilgrims in Jerusalem to the noble benefactors and the friends of this undertaking." The central committee is named as Jacob Ettlinger, Rabbi at Altona, Josef Hirsch, merchant at Halberstadt, and Dr. Israel Hildesheimer, Rabbi at Eisenstadt. The local committee is named as Moses Sachs, Josef Goldberger, Selig Hausdorf, and Meyer Schonbaum. Also of note are several letters and drafts of writings by and in the hand of Grace Aguilar, the prominent nineteenth century British Jewish literary figure. Several letters from Rebecca Gratz are also found in the correspondence series.
Of particular note is Leeser's correspondence with the Jewish community of Latin America. Leeser maintained a close relationship with Jews in Barbados, Curacao, Grenada, Jamaica, St. Thomas and Venezuela.
Unfortunately, virtually nothing of Leeser's strictly personal correspondence is to be found--a fact that may be explained in part by one report that "after his death (Leeser's) executors found among his many effects many strictly private letters, concerning family and business affairs. Every vestige of this correspondence was entirely destroyed" [see Edwin Wolf's statement in The Dropsie College Register, Summer Term (1913), p. 13].
Nonetheless, among the surviving remnant of Leeser's personal papers is his correspondence with individuals from several significant southern Jewish communities, such as Boston (MA), Charleston (SC), Savannah (GA), Mobile (AL), New Orleans (LA), Richmond (VA), as well as many other letters from Jews in Baltimore (MD), Cleveland (OH), London (England), Louisville (KY), Montreal (Quebec), San Francisco (CA), St. Louis (MO), St. Paul (MN) and New York city as well as several other cities in New York state as well as in Texas.
In addition to Leeser's personal papers, a complete set of The Occident, including a bound volume of the advertising supplements (to vols. 13-24), is held at the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies Library at the University of Pennsylvania (formerly the Annenberg Research Institute, and previous to that the Dropsie College for Hebrew and Cognate Learning). It now forms part of the CAJSL Leeser Collection. Many of the first editions of Leeser's published works also are held at the CAJSL. The so-called "Leeser library," which is composed of Leeser's own personal library and those books added to his collection by the Hebrew Education Society after his death (and catalogued by Cyrus Adler in 1887), constitutes an important part of the Penn Library’s unique collection of rare nineteenth century Judaica Americana. The CAJSL also possesses copies of several unpublished dissertations about Leeser.
Parts of the Leeser Papers were microfilmed by the American Jewish Archives (AJA) in 1955-56 and copies of those microfilms, as well as copyflow made from them, are available at the CAJSL. These microfilms are significant because they contain reproductions of original sources whose present location are unknown. The copyflow made from these microfilms is found in Box 25 of this collection. No item-level indices yet exist either to these microfilms or to Penn’s current holdings.
Previous Use of Penn's Leeser Collection
Apparently, and not unusually, the fate of the Leeser collection received by Dropsie College from the Hebrew Education Society has been determined by its users. When the transfer of the Leeser Library to Dropsie College was effected, various calls for a biography of Leeser were made. Unfortunately, several unsuccessful attempts to answer those calls resulted, in part, in the chaotic condition in which the papers were found at the time of their physical and intellectual processing. As Dr. Jacob Rader Marcus notes in his recent book, United States Jewry, 1776-1985, "(The) Emily Solis-Cohen collection in the Marcus collections (located at the American Jewish Archives in Cincinnati) no doubt was originally part of the Leeser collection (at Dropsie College) (p. 732, note 15)." Marcus also records other Leeser material found in "the Leeser papers in the Marcus Collections" and "Leeser Papers in the Emily Solis Cohen Collection in the Marcus Collections" (p. 733, note 15). Additional information pertaining to the dispersal and current location of that Leeser material originally received by the Dropsie College may be found in Lance Sussman's helpful bibliographical essay in his dissertation, “The life and career of Isaac Leeser (1806-1868: a study of American Judaism in its formative period” (Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, 1987) and in his published biography: Isaac Leeser and the making of American Judaism (Detroit, MI:Wayne State University Press, 1995).